Lily Riser disappeared after an argument with her twin sister, Abby. Abducted, held captive in a basement prison and abused for eight years, Lily never thought that she would see daylight again or her family again. Her captor was systematic in his abuse and his control of Lily. Then one day he made a mistake. A mistake which allowed Lily to make bid for freedom.
For eight years, Lily had clung onto the memory of her sister Abby, to the safety net of her family and to the tenderness of her first love. When she returns home, nothing is quite as she had hoped and Lily finds that for her and her daughter Sky, who has known nothing but the dark basement in all of her six years, adjusting to life outside is only the first of the many challenges they have to face. Nothing is the same and even helping put her captor behind bars isn’t enough to quiet the unease within her.
As for Abby and Lily’s mother, having Lily home is like a dream come true. A wish they could only ever hope would come true. But in the intervening years, their lives have changed too, none more so than Abby’s. Lily’s abduction started a downward spiral for Abby. The betrayal of someone she had trusted only magnifies the darkness inside her, a darkness which, in their relief at seeing Lily back home, nobody sees until it is too late.
‘Baby Doll’ is an interesting tale, examining the impact upon the lives of the Riser family from both Lily’s abduction and also her return to the family. With sadly too many familiar stories in the headlines over the past years, I was intrigued to see how the story would unravel. Not too much is made of the abuse which Lily suffered at her abductor’s hand, the action taking place during and after her escape. Still, it is very clear from the catalogue of injuries, just how much she was forced to endure, and this is enough to paint a very clear picture. It is no wonder that Lily struggles in the real world when every memory she held onto in order to survive is slowly but surely undermined.
The contrast between Lily’s strength and Abby’s descent into depression is also an intriguing twist. While in their teen years, Abby had been the strong twin, eldest by six minutes, she felt immeasurable guilt over Lily’s disappearance and an overwhelming need to put things straight, to protect her sister in a way in which no one but Lily could understand. In this, Overton has created an interesting dynamic between the two and a twisting of their personalities as their fates tear them apart and then draw them back together.
The story is told from four points of view, Lily, Abby, their mother, Eve, and Lily’s abductor. It would be easy to lose who was speaking with this many voices to flit between, but I felt that they were distinct enough to allow me to switch between characters easily. One of the difficulties in telling the story from only when Lily escaped thought, for me at least, was the need to recap over the past eight years, sometimes at length, in order to add context to the reactions and suffering the characters all experience throughout the novel. It did mean that sometimes I felt the pace dropped as we were taken through Eve’s failed love life, or what Abby went through in the months following Lily’s disappearance. It was absolutely necessary to be all tell and little show as it was memories, or story recap, rather than contemporary action which was taking place.
Where I think the story worked well, was in looking at the impact on the lives of everyone affected. From Lily and her family to the impact of this sudden freedom on Sky, a young child who had known only a six by four cell for her whole life. To the wider community who cannot begin to understand how someone they trusted could be responsible for Lily’s torment. The man himself, Lily’s abductor, whose twisted mind and depravity is somewhat hard to fathom, and his family, the doting wife who suspected nothing and who would stand by her man until the evidence against him was too damning to ignore. There is also an element of the jailhouse ‘groupie’, a woman so blinded by his charm that she could not see him for what he was. A monster.
The ending was a little surprising, the justice meted on the guilty about as severe as it could be, and the feeling of hope, of the potential future for Lily and Abby, is good to see. The writing is solid and I easily worked through the whole book in a day. All in all a good read and I give it a very clear 4 stars.
My thanks to Net Galley and publishers, Random House UK, Cornerstone for the copy of ‘Baby Doll’ by Hollie Overton in exchange for my review.
Baby Doll is available to purchase here: